I featured some research by Ethan Mollick back in March for Practically Friday. In his latest work with Nancy Rothbard, Mandatory Fun: Gamification and the Impact of Games at Work [available here], he looks at the impact of games at work. I didn’t realize that people often play games at work to make their experience more enjoyable (and hence, more productive – most often in service industries and on shop floors – apparently this has been going on since Ancient Egypt). Usually these games are employee-generated, but with their rise in popularity and the ubiquitous nature of video games, managers now develop their own games in order to improve employees’ experiences and make them work harder (known as gamification), and sometimes make these games mandatory.This is a huge trend in companies right now; Gartner predicted that 70 percent of Global 2000 companies would use gamification by 2014.
In Mollick and Rothbard’s new study, they looked at how games change the performance of salespeople at work. They found that when the games were voluntary, they had a positive effect on an employee’s experience, but when the employee did not consent to play the games and did so under duress, the games had a negative effect on experience and sometimes even the employee’s performance.
The practical lesson here for entrepreneurs and business owners? Games at work can be powerful, but they have a downside. If you decide to "gamify" your business, make sure to get buy-in from employees and make the experience voluntary. No one likes to be forced to have fun.
If you’re interested in other uses of video games at work, Mollick wrote a book on the subject in 2008: Changing the Game: How Video Games Are Transforming the Future of Business.